[Source: Two Circles]: Most sports followers become fans by the age of 14, with those that find sport early more likely to exercise every week, engage in social groups and spend money on sport, according to new analysis from sports marketing agency Two Circles.
Over the past 10 years, the global value of sports rights has grown by 50%, a stratospheric period of growth fuelled by more sports fans in the world than ever before.
With 4bn sports fans by 2032, the global value of sports rights could experience near 50% growth once again over the next decade, with those who know their fans best set to be the biggest benefactors.
To help sports navigate an increasingly competitive landscape Two Circles has conducted a deep-dive analysis into this topic, informed by 1bn+ data records, the 500m+ fans Two Circles speak to daily and listening to 30k+ stories of fan origination and rejection around the world.
Among the key findings are five ‘Foundations for Fan Origination’:
The Made by 14 Principle: A Window into Youthful Enthusiasm
Nearly 50% of sports fans are created by the age of 14 and they are more passionate, engaged, valuable and active as a result. While relatively consistent around the world, UK and Switzerland created fans younger than most, with 57% of fans ‘made by 14’, while India has older new fans, with just 35% ‘made by 14’. However, when it comes to cricket that number rises to nearly 50% - with the majority of each country’s most popular sports attracting fans at a younger age around the world.
Fans made by 14 are also significantly more valuable to the sports they follow. Globally, compared with fans made later in life, they are 24% more likely to declare themselves highly passionate, 98% more likely to consume a sport daily, spend $1.88 for every $1 spent by other sports fans on following sports and 26% more likely to do 150+ minutes of exercise per week.
Sharing Strengthens: Sport Fosters Communities, Both Digital and Real
Being a sports fan is not only about personal connection but is often a communal experience. If no-one in your social network is a highly passionate sports fan, you’re only 12% likely to be highly passionate about that sport. If only one of your social groups shares that interest, the probability doubles from 12% to 24%.
If you are surrounded by a network of highly passionate sports fans that probability leaps to nearly 80%, highlighting the pivotal role that sharing a sports passion can play within immediate peer groups.
Heroes & Teams: Navigating the Evolving Fan Landscape
While team loyalty remains robust, a notable shift has occurred. Generation Z is now almost twice more likely than any other generation to be drawn to sports by individual athletes. This type of following, however, is not at the expense of the formation of team allegiances, with 51% of Gen Z fans identifying as supporters of particular teams, compared to 50% of Millennials and 45% of Gen X fans.
Crucially, the insight indicates that younger generations are declaring their allegiances to teams in equal numbers as before, and team-based fandom has the same impact on behaviour - Gen Z fans are three times more likely to watch a sport live weekly if they support a team. They might come for the athlete, but they stay for the community.
This nuanced dynamic means sports organisations must balance between promoting individual athletes and team identities in order to capture the hearts of young fans.
New Origination, Same Retention: Adapting to Changing Fan Preferences
The emergence of online platforms gaming, sports documentaries, and social media have all changed how sports organisations engage their fans. But watching live television broadcasts is still the key driver, where 40% of all fans begin their relationship with sport.
However, fans created after 2000 have shown a preference for storytelling and on-demand content, marking the shift from the live sports preferences of previous generations.
Despite immersive media like gaming and docuseries being three times more likely to create fans later in life, live and on-demand media will remain key to passionate fandom.
Understanding. Caring. Belonging: The Pillars of Fandom
People don’t just “not like” a sport. They need to understand, care and belong. Simplifying rules, enhancing accessibility, and harnessing a sense of belonging will become the cornerstones of fostering fandom.
Cricket’s The Hundred is cited as a prime example, with a ‘lack of understanding’ seen as a key barrier to the sport. As The Hundred has shown, by breaking down barriers, fandom can be built at younger ages and in more inclusive ways.
Understanding the sport, genuinely caring about outcomes, and providing a platform where fans feel represented and valued are fundamental. Addressing these elements not only nurtures fandom but also bridges the gap for potential fans, creating a vibrant, inclusive sports community which in turn encourages more positive fan behaviour.
Gareth Balch, CEO & Co-Founder, Two Circles said: "We are aspiring to create more sports fans, which will always be worthy of deeper, considered analysis.
“Our mission is to build a better future for the sports industry, and by understanding the profound impact of youthful passion, shared connections, evolving fan preferences, and a sense of belonging, we are shaping a roadmap for sports organisations to foster enduring fandom and flourish in the future."
For in-depth analysis and a comprehensive overview of the study, click here.